Today’s post is the first of several upcoming Guest Posts by leading small group thinkers and/or church practitioners. Philip Nation writes for The Gypsy Road about the dna of community and asks a penetrating question that will demand something of you.
What does that word even mean?
Sometimes a word is used so often that it begins to lose any sense of impact with us. It happens all of the time. Think about the myriad of business terms that come in and out of favor where you work. Vision. Mission. Team. Brainstorming. Entrepreneur. Paradigm. Win-win. And one of my favorites: Cutting-edge.
At one time, they all had significant meaning, if only for a season. Now, they fall in and out of favor depending on who is your boss-of-the-moment. Sometimes passé and sometimes brilliant, we wield such words like a Samurai warrior with his sword or a kid with a toy light saber.
Maybe that is why so many people began using the word “community” rather than “fellowship.” The latter was once a word with rich meaning of lives shared, burdens relieved, and joys distributed. As a boy growing up in a Southeastern city and regularly attending a revivalistic church, it usually meant a big dinner with lots of fried chicken and casseroles. And that was fine with me. Especially if Mrs. Betty brought her homemade chocolate pie too.
Over time, fellowship did not mean what we thought it should mean. So, we picked a new word to communicate an old meaning. Community. To some, it means the geographic place where they live. “I live in the Hendersonville community just north of Nashville.” But to those in a small group at church, it is increasingly meaning something else. It has become a signpost of life shared.
Now, this is where a writer would most often share his or her authoritative definition of the subject matter. But, for today, I will restrain myself. Instead, it is time for you to become the subject matter expert. Sure, I could tear through a list of “must haves” and “must avoid” for better community. But first, your church must define community before it can act in community.
So today’s blog entry is a challenge: Define what community means. Search through passages from Genesis to Revelation. After all, God is seeking community with us and setting us up for community with one another. Adam and Eve had it in Genesis 2. Moses is stretched in Numbers 12 to keep it. Ruth and Naomi find an unexpected level of it. Mephibosheth never thought he could have it, but he does. Job seeks it only to be silenced by its arrival. Isaiah celebrates in it while Jeremiah finds refuge to lament in its presence. Hosea and Gomer provide one of the oddest illustrations for it. Jesus offered it to twelve men who followed, questioned, doubted, believed, and most gave their lives for it. Paul constantly talked about it. The church both excelled and stumbled in it. And Christ will perfect it one day.
So what is it? Theologians, saints, and sages have given a multitude of definitions. But you are the community expert in your church. So initiate the conversation in your small group this week. Throw it out there and then throw open your Bibles. Let the conversation fill the room about life, sharing life, and doing life together. Let God’s kingdom-expanding grace leap off of the pages of scripture and bring it to light and life to your own community. This week, rather than hope for community—lead your friends to define, describe, and dedicate themselves to it.
Philip Nation is the Director for Ministry Development at LifeWay Reasearch as well as a reknowned author. Philip has been a been a youth minister, single adult minister, education minister, pastor, and church planter. He is married to Angie and the father of two incredible boys.